Bahrain: NGOs call for Naji Fateel and other human rights defenders to be freed

27.05.21

On 21 May 2021, a group of NGOs called for the release of Naji Fateel and other human rights defenders who have been imprisoned in Bahrain for their peaceful human rights activism. The event, “Free Naji Fateel and all detained prisoners of conscience; Human rights of people should be respected” was co-organised by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, FIDH and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

Khalid Ibrahim of GCHR moderated the event and introduced Fateel, a prominent human rights defender who was a Board member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) when he was arrested on 02 May 2013. He has been subjected to poor treatment and torture in Jau Prison, where he is serving a 15-year sentence for his human rights work. Prior to his current detention he was regularly detained since 2007 when he was also tortured. Fateel has missed all the milestones celebrated by his family while he has been in prison.

Asma Darwish of BCHR began with a call for Fateel’s release. She highlighted the need to turn the page on ten years of repression and called for the authorities to open a dialogue on reform. She highlighted the large number of people affected by the repression of freedom of expression, and the torture of human rights defenders and activists. She also noted that “all independent media has been shut down” and freedom of the press is very restricted. “You can go to prison for a tweet or a like on a Facebook post,” she said, noting that she herself was dismissed from University in 2011 for tweeting about protests and posting on Facebook.

Nina Mckee of ADHRB noted that Fateel has suffered sleep deprivation, sexual threats including to family members, threats to release private pictures, and in 2013 was hung from the ceiling. He suffers psychologically and physically, including hearing loss, broken bones, and back injuries. He is not provided proper food for his high cholesterol. She said that Fateel has attempted to file complaints at various courts and human rights bodies in Bahrain to no avail. His lawyer has been threatened and he has been put in solitary confinement, for up to six months. In response, he has gone on hunger strikes to protest for better conditions and to see his family. These constitute “clear violations of international human rights bodies... as well as Bahrain’s own laws against torture,” which shows a strong culture of impunity. She noted, “Fateel was only one of many in prison for speaking out peacefully.”

Ibrahim also mentioned Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, a co-founder of GCHR, who also has been treated poorly, requiring 36 operations following torture, and must be freed. He said, “We want to respect full human rights across the region. We are only trying to protect human rights. The Bahraini government needs to release all human rights defenders who are in prison for their peaceful activities. Najeel Fateel is just one of them.”

Gisela Castro of FIDH noted that there had been some recent successes such as the release of Nabeel Rajab in 2020, however in each case they required international pressure. She noted that “significant pressure from the European Union has been put on Bahrain.” Now that there is a new agreement between the EU and Bahrain, we need to look for opportunities. She highlighted opportunities for sanctions under the European Magnitsky Act of 2020. While all 27 member states would have to agree, a public case that the “situation is so bad in Bahrain” could be made to the EU, which would create pressure for action.

You can watch the full event online at GCHR’s YouTube channel using the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbJMMQhi_QY&t=175s